Kelly Liken: seasonal and local in Vail |

Kelly Liken: seasonal and local in Vail

Wren Wertin
Vail CO, Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – Chef-Owner Kelly Liken is one of those chefs who is embracing both the Seasonal and American in Seasonal American cuisine. Capitalizing on her own love of Colorado and its distinctive products, there is very much a sense of place in every aspect of the menu.

Menu staples include high-altitude greens, Rocky Mountain trout, Colorado lamb and beef in ever changing preparations.

Honing in on traditional texture and flavor combinations, Chef Liken builds a dish. But it doesn’t go down the way you’d expect. Sure she might pair creamy with earthy, or crunchy with smooth. But she must look long and hard for those elements in out-of-the-way places, because they never show up where you’d think they would.

Take the roasted rhubarb salad: Banish all thoughts of ultra-soft pie filling. Playing against stereotype, she cooks the rhubarb to crisp-tender. Mixed with bright greens, all of the salad’s creaminess seems concentrated in the macadamia nuts liberally sprinkled throughout the plate. The crunch of the rhubarb teases the brain, keeping you a little off kilter in the same way watching a shy friend suddenly burst out with a dead-on imitation or gregarious joke would. You’re surprised, impressed and ultimately a little buzzed by the unexpectedness of it all.

It’s no accident that Kelly Liken has the feel of a wine bar. With offerings that run the gamut from quarter pours to magnums, there’s a lively bar area perfect for drinks and apps. With a variety of traditional and non-alcoholic cocktails, it’s a good meeting spot. Dining Room Manager Rick Colomitz has added some fun Colorado wines to his list. “Colorado wines are coming into their own, getting more and more refined and better and better reviews,” he says.

“We throw away our regular menu and focus on what’s fresh at the farmers’ market that day,” Liken says. “We’re literally writing the menu as we walk through the market; it’s totally off the cuff.”

Tony G. plays, and the three-course menu is $45.

But if you’re ordering from the menu, jump at the mascarpone and paremsan tortellini if they’re available. The plump little pillows, nestled inconspicuously between colorful vegetables, give no outward indication of their subversive nature. The first bites show how delicately each vegetable has been treated: the artichoke quarters are all heart, the squash snaps. But slice into the tortellini and the cheesy filling ever so slowly begins to ooze out, thickening the broth and pulling everything into its vaguely creamy cloud. A few bites more and all the ingredients are working in tandem, each sharing its secret self but taking on characteristics of the group. Tasting how they work toward the same goal, the well-defined sense of self each veggie had at the beginning seems almost unnecessary. It’s a feminist’s nightmare: Cede your identity for the good of the whole. But what a whole it is. And what an experience.

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